Grand Island Senior High will put a young, inexperienced team on the court this season.
The Islanders, who went 11-11 last year, have only one player returning with any varsity experience, but head coach Jeff Hofeldt said preseason practices have been enjoyable.
“It’s been really competitive, it’s been a lot of fun,” Hofeldt said.
“It’s been kind of refreshing because a lot of these kids have no varsity experience. To see them come out and work hard every day is just a lot of fun to see.”
The Islanders have 12 juniors out, but three of those are injured — two in football and one during basketball practice.
They also have five sophomores competing for varsity spots.
One thing Hofeldt is already sure about is that sophomore Eli Hunter, who played varsity last year as a freshman, will be an important player for the Islanders.
“Eli is going to be our starting point guard this weekend,” Hofeldt said. “He’s just doing a lot of good things on the floor. Pierce Almond is another one that suited up varsity at the end of the year.
“And then we have a good nucleus of JV kids from last year but they’re pretty fundamental. I think they shoot the ball well. It’s just a matter of how well we match up with way bigger and stronger teams.”
Hofeldt said after basketball was over last year, there were 10 to 12 players who were coming in at 6 a.m. on four days a week to work on their games. That kind of work ethic has helped them show great improvement.
“The exciting thing is we know we’ll have these kids for two to three years down the road,” Hofeldt said. “It’s just going to be a fun year in terms of looking at improvement on a daily basis, also during the season overcoming obstacles and over coming adversity.
“I think we have a lot of talent, but it may take some time to cultivate it.”
The Islanders won’t have much height this season. They have a couple of 6-5 players and other than that, the tallest are about 6-2 or so.
“So at the Class A level we don’t have a lot of height,” Hofeldt said.
That means the Islanders may have to work even more than usual on reboudning.
“We’re really focused on rebounding, making sure we put a body on somebody and just being physical inside,” Hofeldt said. “Rebounding is obviously a concern. Also post defense. How are we going to defend the post and prevent teams from scoring inside on us. We think we have some ideas. We’ll see if they work. If they don’t, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Grand Island opens play Friday against Omaha Westside in the first round of the Early Season Tournament.
The Islanders will play the second round at either Papillion-La Vista or Lincoln Southwest on Saturday.